Unreal estate

Will Councils Be Resourced to Tackle Illegal Short-term Lets?

Across the city, as Dubliners have become frustrated with homes being turned into short-term lets, many have reported cases to the council.

But most of the complaints since the beginning of 2017 are still being looked into, and less than a quarter have so far resulted in properties being returned to long-term leases.

The enforcement of existing rules that can be used to regulate short-term lets is time-consuming, laborious and slow.

“It’s so long-winded in terms of due process,” says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.

If Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy brings in new rules – such as a licensing regime – to regulate short-term lettings via Airbnb and other companies, will local councils be asked to, and have the capacity to, enforce them?

A Slow Process

An Bord Pleanála ruled in 2016 that using residential apartments for short-term lets was a “change of use” and therefore requires planning permission.

Dublin City Council has received 199 complaints since the start of 2017, according to figures from the council’s planning-enforcement department.

Of the cases opened in 2017, 61 are closed and 74 are ongoing. Of those opened in 2018, 13 are closed and 51 are ongoing.

Of the 74 cases that have been closed by the council since the beginning of 2017, roughly 45 have returned to long-term leases.

Another 20 were houses rather than apartments, so they were deemed to not be in violation of rules.

Under the planning act, up to four bedrooms can be used in a house without needing change of use, the logic being that it is less of a disturbance for a neighbourhood, as there aren’t common areas and the homes have their own front doors.

The balance are properties that are now empty and up for sale.

Easy to Spot

Figures from the website Inside Airbnb, which analyses publicly available data about Airbnb listings, suggest that short-term lets have been spreading fast – beyond individuals renting out a room in their own home.

In February 2017, there were 2,944 homes listed by hosts with multiple listings, according to Inside Airbnb. By August 2018, that number had reached 4,422, according to more recent data from the website.

That’s a 50 percent increase. And that’s just Airbnb, which is only one of the companies offering short-term lettings around the city.

There is a black key box next to the door of an old Georgian Terrace at 17 Mountjoy Square East, a hint that one of the apartments inside has been used as a short-term let for holiday-makers summering in the city.

It’s one of several listed by Stay Ireland online – one of the many short-term lets websites that have sprung up in the city in recent years.

Mountjoy Accommodation, which shares an email account with Stay Ireland and a number of sister sites including Fairview Accommodation, lists the same address. Celine Dorman of Fairview Accommodation, who is the host of several apartments on Airbnb, didn’t respond to emails or calls.

Another of the listed properties, 24 Gardiner Street Upper, was quiet on Tuesday. There was a key box by the door.

Finding the Landlords

Dublin City Council’s planning database doesn’t list change-of-use applications from residential to commercial for either 17 Mountjoy Square East, or 24 Gardiner Street Upper.

But it can still be laborious to prove in a court that a short-term let is violating planning rules.

Enforcement officials would have to get inside the building, find the apartment in question, and speak to the people inside – who might be confused or might be visitors abroad who do not speak English well.

The council has to prove there is a breach to issue an enforcement notice, and the same to take court action – and again in court, the council has to prove there are continuing breaches.

The other issue is a common one when working on any kind of housing issue: finding out who owns the apartment.

These properties are often managed by a letting company, and identifying the owner, who is legally responsible, is often not as simple as just going to the Property Registration Authority.

This is yet another reason why a better property register would be beneficial, making it easier for people to find out who owns properties, says Labour Councillor Andrew Montague. “That holds back opportunities.”

Resourcing Enforcement

Further regulation of short-term letting in the city could theoretically help to address some of these issues.

As well as setting a ceiling on the number of days people can rent our rooms for, “the crucial thing that needs to be done is to introduce a registration system, whereby everybody who is short-letting an entire home for however long or short a period should have to register with the local authority”, says Frank McDonald, of the Temple Bar Residents Association.

That way if a short-term let wasn’t registered, it would clearly be in violation. And if it was registered, the council would have the names and addresses of the people responsible, which would make any necessary enforcement easier, McDonald says.

“It’s a logistical nightmare, I think, from the enforcement side,” he says. “Planning enforcement is something that has been under-resourced for years, even though it is a mandatory requirement on the local authorities.”

Anyone applying for a license to use an apartment for short-term letting should have to prove that it is their primary principle residence, says Workers’ Party Councillor Éilis Ryan, “rather than it being for the state to prove that it’s not”.

(One of the proposed restrictions on Airbnb is to limit room-sharing to rooms in homes where people are living, rather than second properties.)

But the council will still need resources to enforce the rules, Ryan says. “The major obstacle to the enforcement of anything is resources. That’s probably the major block.”

But she says she wonders if it’ll end up with lots of smaller home-sharers complying, and those with larger resources finding ways to get around it.

It’s a huge use of resources to monitor and police this, she said. “What is the downside of just banning it outright?”

The Department of Housing didn’t respond to queries about resources, should there be changes to regulations. “The minister has to bring his proposal to cabinet. So there are no decisions yet,” said a spokesperson.

McDonald says other bodies can police short-term letting, too. His building’s management company has put tight limits on allowing people to use their apartments for short-term letting, he says.

There are only five apartments in the building, though, so its simpler in their case than it might be for larger schemes with hundreds of apartments, he says.

Ryan says she is watching to see if – should new rules be brought in – many properties being used for short-term lets full-time will then apply for change of planning use from residential to commercial.

In such cases, the council may “take a pragmatic view that the building won’t return to being derelict and they’ll approve them in the context of there being a shortage of hotel rooms,” she says. (That’s not something she would like to see.)

If they then get commercial planning, they probably wouldn’t need to deal with any licensing regime, she says, and could simply continue to let out the entire apartment year-round to tourists, rather than bringing it back to long-term leasing.

Lois Kapila portrait
Lois Kapila

Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's managing editor and general-assignment reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with her? Send an email to her at info@dubinq.com.

 

Comments

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  2. steve white
    12 September at 13:35

    video on how they get around regulations in the UK they just advertise their lettings on Airbnb for 90 days and then use other sites to let for more time https://twitter.com/jamjgo/status/1038811108998635520

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